ABA Journal

The Prosecutor on Trial: Ex-Maricopa County Attorney Faces Disbarment for Political Acts


Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas.
Photo by Jack Kurtz/Arizona Republic.

Also see: "The Maricopa Courthouse War."

Nothing was usual when Colorado bar discipline prosecutors John Gleason and James Sudler flew into Maricopa County, Ariz., in March 2010. For security reasons, they used assumed names and stayed at nine different hotels over the next year, as well as rotating through three rental car agencies.

Appointed by Arizona’s chief justice to investigate allegations that Maricopa’s elected prosecutor abused his powers to take down political enemies—even filing bizarre criminal charges against a judge just to prevent a scheduled hearing—they arrived with targets on their backs.

Precautions were worked out by the heads of security at the Colorado and Arizona supreme courts, mindful of the intimidation and harassment faced by many who crossed then-County Attorney Andrew Thomas and his closest ally and enforcer, the self-proclaimed “America’s toughest sheriff,” Joe Arpaio.

While the discipline case was to be decided by early April, appeals are certain either way.

There has been nothing before—in scope and import—like this spectacle, which ended in November. Many professional responsibility lawyers consider this the mother of all discipline trials, though technically it was an administrative hearing.

At age 38 and with virtually no prosecutorial experience, Thomas, a Harvard Law School grad, took office in 2005 after a tough-on-crime campaign, then was re-elected as a populist hero whose battles against illegal immigration helped spark a number of states to enact immigration laws out of frustration with what they see as the feds being feckless on the job. Thomas was instrumental in the movement launched from his state, and the issue is now before the U.S. Supreme Court in Arizona v. United States.

Early in his tenure, the prosecutor started feuding with other elected officials, judges and county managers. He used the bully pulpit of news conferences and opened criminal investigations against those who criticized or questioned his handling of immigration enforcement and other issues.

Click here to read the rest of “The Prosecutor on Trial” from the April issue of the ABA Journal.

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